Why the linear school-to-work model is becoming a thing of the past — and why that’s a good thing

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Why the linear school-to-work model is becoming a thing of the past — and why that’s a good thing

For hundreds of years, many students have followed the linear and well-trodden path from school to career to retirement — even as the world around them changed dramatically. Although the details have varied over the years and not everyone has been able to access a top-notch education (which is something we’ve been working hard to change), generally speaking, you could convert “I came, I saw, I conquered” to the student’s mantra of “I trained, I worked, I retired.” 

However, over time (and especially in recent years), a lot has changed. People across the globe are now pushing for living wages, a higher quality of life and more environmental responsibility, and in tandem with that, countries have made incredibly necessary strides away from low-wage or slave labor and other non-sustainable tactics. As part of that cultural shift, educational opportunities have been opened up to students of different genders, with various disabilities and with different financial circumstances. But it took the creation of the internet to really disrupt the education sector. 

Much like how the earlier industrial revolutions allowed goods and services to be distributed across a vast geographic area, the introduction of the internet allowed cutting-edge, up-to-date content to be instantly distributed to mass audiences across geographical, social and cultural boundaries. With COVID-19 driving the need for distance learning, we’ve recently really noticed that technology can transform education and have come to understand the need for carefully researched and vetted content. Now, the education sector is set to go through yet another revolution, one driven by innovation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Technological change, automation and AI are already reshaping the world of work, defining what skills are necessary and what skills are replaceable. Whereas we might’ve once remarked with surprise, “Well, you learn something new every day,” we now are faced with the task of ensuring that every one of us is learning something new (and something relevant) every day so that we can rise to the challenges of an ever-changing world. 

It’s hard to completely prepare for the future when we don’t know what the future will bring. With some projections saying that people will have as many as 15 different jobs over their working life (and with the decreasing shelf-life of certain skills given the rapid pace of technological change), lifelong learning will become a necessity, not an optional extra or aspirational goal. This will become especially true as humans live longer and retire later.

So, what are some of the biggest changes we see coming to the world of education?

Building that solid foundation with a bachelor’s or master’s degree will still be a requirement for workers, but it might be spread out differently and seen as a stepping stone, not a stopping point. For example, having a business degree from a decade ago may no longer be enough. Employees will also need to gain certifications, qualifications and hands-on experience throughout their lives to prove that they are adaptable enough to be able to handle the changing demands of the modern world.

Cost models and structures for higher education will increasingly change to meet this dynamic need. 

Traditional four-year institutions tend to represent an expensive investment in your education. At SMI, we are dedicated to making sure our programs are affordable, and we also offer inexpensive bite-sized courses for lifelong learners through eduBITES. Other universities are also recognizing this need; one example is Stanford’s conversation-starting Stanford2025 proposal for an Open Loop University, which would allow students to spread their education out over a longer period of time. To help bring these kinds of innovative ideas to the mainstream, governments and organizations will need to partner up to make sure large swaths of society aren’t priced out of accessing better educational opportunities, skills and jobs. (If you haven’t read about it, the Reskilling Revolution initiative is a good start.)

Education approaches will have to expand to cover historical, contemporary and hands-on topics. 

In order to make sound decisions, we have to combine a solid foundational education with bite-sized learning opportunities throughout our lives — ensuring that we are able to build leaders who can use a fusion of social, historical, technical and hands-on knowledge to make decisions that won’t damage the world or leave them filled with regret. At SMI, our time-tested dual-education approach, which combines practical, hands-on, real-world experiences with the best in traditional theoretical learning, is perfectly suited to the demand for this kind of hybrid learning method.

Ultimately, we firmly believe that the world will be a better place when we are truly lifelong learners. After all, Sarah Stein Greenberg noted that it’d be preposterous if someone told you, “If you exercise every day for the next four years, you will be fit for the rest of your life.” That one-and-done model just wouldn’t be successful. To be truly fit for our careers and the world of work, we need to live in line with the idea that learning is a muscle that we need to exercise regularly. Education can no longer be just a front-loaded on-ramp to your career; it has to become an entire system of roads and walkways that you can access throughout your life to help you reach your goals — no matter how they change and need to be adapted.

To join us on our mission to improve the world of education or to find out more about accessing a next-level education that’s made in Germany and delivered around the world, visit steinbeis-smi.com or edubites.com/.

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